How does it feel to be a woman in IT? Anna Stetsenko talks about the “male” field, discrimination and gender stereotypes

There are many gender stereotypes regarding both men and women. But when it comes to a career, particularly in IT, women have a much harder time.

Happy Monday talk about the obstacles women face in business and their career with Anna Stetsenko, the founder of IT recruitment agency Indigo – Tech Recruiters.

Anna, why is this topic important to you?

I like one old American riddle. If you haven’t heard it, give yourself some time to think before reading the answer below.

A father and a son got into a terrible car crash in which the father died. The son was urgently taken to the hospital. When the child got to the O.R., the surgeon said: “I can’t operate—that boy is my son.” How is that possible?

In the USA, only 20% gave the correct answer in the ’80s, and now this number is around 70%. The answer that perhaps it was a same-sex marriage and the child had two fathers is becoming more common. The correct answer is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother. We are curious: what did you answer? 

Perhaps it is not that serious, but back to your question, it is important to me because I want to see that, in Ukraine, no one has difficulties when solving similar riddles. 🙂

Do you often get questions about discrimination in the Ukrainian IT industry?

Not often. This topic is relevant for journalists when they talk to a recruitment professional and don’t know what else to ask about. Or smart and successful women who are concerned about this topic and are trying to change the situation. Or when raising this issue is beneficial. For instance, to sell more conference tickets to a female audience. Or when international speakers refuse to come to a conference because there are no women among the participants.

 

Have you faced it yourself?

There was a fun case. Once at a business owner’s party  I was invited to, one tipsy participant asked me to run and get him some whiskey. It was a purely male environment and women were there only among the service personnel. Situations like this happen often, as there are very few women in the business environment.

I faced situations when contact persons of our clients weren’t ready to consider women for leadership positions in IT using the standard set of arguments:

  • Women have or will have kids. If not, then they have husbands who will not let them go on a business trip. 
  • Women can’t be stress-resilient, manage male teams, or get motivated by ambitious goals.
  • Women can be very emotional, especially during “their time of the month”.

Sometimes they don’t want to have women in technical positions such as programmer or data science engineer.

Before, they could also tell a joke: “What do a guinea pig and a female programmer have in common? Just as a guinea pig has nothing to do with Guinea or pigs, female programmers have nothing to do with females or programming.” Nowadays, they don’t tell this joke anymore. It is considered in bad taste. 

Another one happened just recently. I felt so much love and was so proud to publish a photo from our Indigo team gathering in Myrgorod, and in response to that I received a comment that, as an employer, it is beneficial for me to hire women as I can pay them less.

 

Is it easy to be a business woman in the Ukrainian IT industry?

Thank you for not asking me if it is easy for a business woman to combine entrepreneurship and a personal life. 🙂 Once I had to give an interview to “Biznes-arena” (Business arena), and so, as I was preparing, I looked through a number of their interviews with other people. Guess what? They don’t ask this question to men. However, they ask it to every woman.

Personally, I see a lot of discrimination and social attitudes even in such wording. I don’t know a single entrepreneur who feels that role is easy. Is it interesting? Yes. Is it driving me? Yes. But it is by no means easy.

Business is a constant pressure of responsibility, speed and contingencies on the one hand, and a wide wingspan of dreams and ambitions on the other.

 

Have you witnessed discrimination of men in employment?

Yes, these things also happen due to two main reasons.

First, there are “purely female” professions such as recruiter, HR manager, office manager, accountant or tester.

Second, sometimes employers decide to “dilute” male teams for a cosier atmosphere, so to speak.

 

How do you work with clients who have prejudice against female professionals?

With the same respect and care as with other clients. Our CEO, Katya Osadchuk, never stops reminding our team that it is important to emphasize the good points of every person when communicating with them. And it has a wonderful effect. People really open up at their best.

I have a degree in cultural studies. I am well aware of how long it takes to rewrite cultural code. 

It is impossible to change deep-seated convictions of a person at once, let alone the whole nation. 

It is better to show an alternative perspective with your own example in a trusted relationship. Our team is good with a marathon approach to achieving goals. Thanks to this, we have much better and stable results than if we would say something unkind to people in the heat of the moment because of different viewpoints.

I am sure that such a soft approach changes the attitude of our clients to equal rights of women and men in career development.

 

We often hear that there are biological differences between men and women. Or that women are objectively less predictable – maternity leave and so on. What do you think about it?

Sure, there are biological differences. However, the differences created by upbringing, education and social expectations are much greater. For example, my friends saved money for their son’s education and send him to study at Stanford. They didn’t do the same for their daughter who was just 1.5 years older than her brother. Not because they didn’t have the money, but because she was a girl, so why would she need it…

Do you remember the video #LikeAGirl? Watch it again. It is very relevant.

I also suggest a book by Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. It helps to see a bigger picture.

To me, this double standard of business remains a mystery. 

I recently took part in the discussion “Strategies of the Development of Ukraine by 2030” at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future. One of the main problems of our country’s microeconomics is a demographic crisis and shortage of workers. 

Meanwhile, business firmly insists that it is not beneficial to hire women, because they can take maternity leave, and business doesn’t understand the need to create suitable conditions for working mothers as they won’t be able to be 100% dedicated to their work…

 

There are more women than men in your company. How does it influence your work?

At Indigo, we have 24 women and 1 man. Often they are mothers, sometimes on maternity leave. It is hard to imagine more organized people. They have to make time for work, for their children, and for themselves. I sincerely believe that motherhood is the best time-management training.

Our partners often rename Eugeniy, our only man in the team, to Eugenia. They don’t expect to see a male recruiter. Unfortunately.

There are not enough men for diversity in recruitment. However, there are many challenges, difficult tasks and high fees. 

 

What is the value of balanced teams? Is diversity important?

I want to give a simple example. No one questions a balanced diet. Diversity is one of the main points of balance. You need different ingredients, flavours, vitamins and minerals. It is exactly the same for teams.

Diversity makes a team stronger, more creative, multi-modal and flexible. Teams only benefit from diversity.

 

What do women need to know, understand and do in order to change the situations?

It is a difficult question, and a few suggestions won’t help change things, but we can start small.

First, raise self-respect and self-esteem. There is a sad statistics in the world: women tend to devalue their opportunities and achievements way more often than men. I like this quote by Sheryl Sandberg: “You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

Second, educate yourself and the people around you about the situation of discrimination against women and women’s rights. The problem is bigger than a couple of personal examples.

There is plenty of research on this topic. Women get paid much less and get promoted less often than men.

It is better to know facts and then make a decision as to whether you accept the situation or want to try and change something.

Third, choose proper partners. Those who will support your aspirations and dreams, and not those who will say, even jokingly, that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.

Please, don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that women can’t make a conscious choice for full-time motherhood and homemaking. I am only emphasizing that this is a choice. And, if it is made, then it shouldn’t come from a victim perspective (“I dedicated my entire life to you”) or fear (“I can’t do anything else”).

It should be a conscious and wholehearted choice. 

Do you know that married men who regularly do the dishes have sex twice more often than those who don’t? I mean, men who equally share household chores get happier and more harmonious relationships as a result. So everybody wins. 🙂

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